Home Opinion Clearing the name of Christopher Columbus

Clearing the name of Christopher Columbus

Let’s begin by stating the difference between true facts and personal opinion. When judging figures from the past, we must be sure to check all the facts and leave out the personal prejudices that often influence our thoughts.

Those who want to blame Italian explorer Christopher Columbus directly for all the suffering of indigenous people that followed his landing in the Bahama Islands on Oct. 12, 1492, are ignoring the facts of history. If we could only read primary historical sources like the writings of his contemporary, Friar Bartolome de Las Casas, we would know that none of the atrocities attributed to Columbus are true. Modern scholars like Robert F. Petrone and Stanford Professor Emeritus Carol Delaney have spent years studying those original documents and other artifacts that provide evidence that Columbus was actually a civil rights activist.

Petrone, for example, read De Las Casas’s original Spanish text, Historia de las Indias (History of the indies) and learned that those acts of cruelty were actually committed by Columbus’s arch-nemesis, Francisco de Bobadilla, who blamed Columbus in an attempt to unseat him from the office of Governor of the West Indies. Columbus successfully sued Bobadilla for libel in a court of law. However, those debunked charges were resurrected 500 years later by pseudo-historian Howard Zinn for his polemic The People’s History of the United States.

Professor Delaney, meanwhile, dedicated 10 years to travel and study of Columbus artifacts to write her own book, Columbus and the Quest for Jerusalem. This world scholar agrees with true historians, like Petrone, who have clearly demonstrated that all the tired calumny leveled at Columbus is just a collection of lies.

Not only that, there is strong primary evidence that Columbus fought against the rampant racism, rape, murder, enslavement and genocide committed by his political nemeses like Bobadilla. He even successfully petitioned the widowed King of Spain to enact the first civil rights legislation in the Americas, explicitly prohibiting Spanish settlers from enslaving or mistreating the indigenes.

One stark example of Columbus’s heroic concern for indigenous lives was on his second voyage when he sailed the Caribbean archipelago from island to island rescuing Tainos from capture and enslavement by cannibal Carib and Canib tribes. Let me be clear. Christopher Columbus saved those people from flesh-eating natives. He even adopted the son of a Taino chieftain who had been killed in a tribal war.

As the descendant of Italian-Americans and a lover of history, I am proud of my heritage and of the proven fact that a native of Italy initiated over 500 years of cultural, economic and political exchanges between the Old and New Worlds. I acknowledge that there was suffering among the indigenous tribes – some due to their own practices – and some because of susceptibility to European diseases like smallpox. My point here is that Christopher Columbus did his best to protect those people from mistreatment by settlers and others. He does not deserve the blame for crimes he did not commit and tried to prevent.

Gloria Cipollini Endres

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